The Myth of Smooth Success

When most people see entrepreneurs succeeding, they often think or remark something along the lines of, “Wow, that guy [or girl] really has it figured out. They just keep rising.” 

While it may be true that the entrepreneur is doing a great job and operating at an advanced mental level, the mistake often made is that their rise has been smooth, either professionally or personally. Everybody knows that founders work incredibly hard, but so many are fooled that hard work and clever decision on their own are enough to succeed, over and over again.

In my limited experience, I’ve found that there’s a little more to this game than just smarts and laboriousness. After all, people need that to succeed at just about anything in life. In startup entrepreneurship however, there are a lot more unknown and difficult variables to contend with. These could include issues like market timing, tricky investor relations, co-founder politics, or managing a difficult cash runway. It may sound straightforward, but dealing with any of the above when pushed to extremes can feel like a life threatening situation, and raise a person’s stress levels to dizzying heights.

As such, “success” tends to show up when the founder has learned to continuously weather these variables and survive- while working hard and cleverly of course- until good things happen. That’s what people often refer to as “getting lucky”. Even founders, when speaking of their successes will make statements like, “I got lucky there”, or “That deal came out of nowhere”. Was it luck? Well, yes, to an extent. But in my view, if you stay in the game long enough you’re bound to get lucky at some point. That’s really what it’s all about- being tenacious enough to survive the difficult scenarios; again and again and again.

On the surface and to the outside world though, everything can seem hunky dory. Founders tend to hide their struggles, internalizing them and not wearing their hardships on their sleeves. When viewed in perspective, victories are unimaginably hard won at times, yet this is unseen by most. And therein lies the myth of smooth success.

On “The Art of Exceptional Living” by Jim Rohn

As the first quarter of 2012 draws to a close I find myself reflecting on the months already past, and envisioning what is to come for the rest of the year.

How am I doing? Where am I going? How will I get there? These are some of the questions swirling through my head right now.
When searching for motivation and focus, I believe in following the fundamentals. For me, nobody says it better and more clearly than Jim Rohn. He is the grandfather of the “motivational speaker and author” movement that swept the world, and for good reason. (Actually it’s possible that the original motivational author was Seneca, but I digress). To put his credibility into perspective, Jim Rohn was the first mentor of the considerably more famous Tony Robbins.

Today I took the time to re-listen to Jim Rohn’s excellent audio book, “The Art of Exceptional Living”. It’s under two hours and it will change your life. Rohn’s simple concepts and pointed logic are as powerful and razor sharp as anything I’ve ever come across. If I could only have one audio book, this would be it.
Here are some of my special notes from the reading below.

- Personal philosophy is the cornerstone of your achievement.
- Read, read, read! Build a library with a wide variety of interests and topics. Focus on the best stuff. Avoid the junk. Books allow you to access the wisdom of the world. Read books over again, and extract information carefully. “You don’t hear a song that you like and only listen to it once, do you?”
- Act on your knowledge! Don’t live a life that is 90% under-utilized. Keep pouring out the ideas and actions… more will come in. Rest is a necessity, not an objective. Keep acting. Act with intent, while the energy and emotion are highest. (And avoid diminishing intent).
- Create greater value. The market- i.e. reality- will only reward greater value.
- Share. Sharing (e.g. books, knowledge, ideas, talks) doesn’t only help others, it helps you- especially via repetition.

In addition to my notes, I also took down a few quotes that stood out to me: - “Don’t wish that it were easier, wish that you were better. Don’t wish for fewer challenges- wish for greater wisdom”.
- “Work harder on your self than on your job”.
- “I’ll look after me… for you- if you’ll look after you… for me”.
- “If you wish to be successful, study success. If you wish to be happy, study happiness. If you wish to be wealthy, study wealth.”
- “You may not be able to do all you find out, but make sure you find out all you can do.”
- “It’s not what happens that determines your future, it’s what you do about it.”
- “Everybody has to be good at either of two things: Planting in the spring or begging in the fall.”
- ”Motivation alone isn’t enough. Take an idiot and motivate him and you have a motivated idiot.”

Lastly, here is Jim Rohn’s famous definition of failure and success:”Failure: A few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”
"Success: A few simple disciplines, repeated every day."

What is Your Failure Rate?

Today I read a fascinating post by Internet entrepreneur Auren Hoffman that forced me to ask the question, “What is my failure rate?”.
Using brilliant logic that I wholeheartedly agree with, Auren explains why a high failure rate is actually a good sign- an extremely good sign. It sounds counter-intuitive, and it sort of is. But he’s dead right.

Take 5 minutes and read the post already. Then spend 5 minutes every day thinking about it, and acting your way into plenty of failures… and a few great successes too.

Success Is Never A Straight Line


When observing successful people, it’s all too easy to think that their progress went in a straight, continuous upward line, with no hiccups along the way.

That is almost never the case. Everybody goes through setbacks, course changes and meanderings. That’s why most entrepreneurs refer to startups as a “rollercoaster”- one day you’re up, and the next day, down. A trait I have noticed of many successful people is their ability to persist and keep pushing forward, staying on course with their long term vision regardless of their immediate, temporary conditions. 
It’s easier to join the dots and make sense of it all looking backwards, with the big picture in mind.

What “The Fighter” Can Teach Us About Persistence

This morning I had the pleasure of watching “The Fighter”. It’s a movie based on the true life story of Mickey Ward, an older down on his luck boxer from relatively unknown Lowell, Massachusetts, who overcomes a barrage of obstacles in and out of the ring to eventually accomplish his dream.

Mark Wahlberg does a fantastic job in the lead role of Mickey Ward, but Christian Bale’s portrayal of his drug using brother Dicky Eklund is simply mesmerizing. He is truly one of the best actors out there today. The Fighter is nominated for several Oscars, and I for one hope that it kicks ass on the night at the Academy Awards. Check out the trailer:

I love inspirational movies like this one. The Rocky series, Men of Honour, Iron Will and even The Shawshank Redemption are also great examples.

In these stories lies the truth that, with relentless hard work and unshakable persistence, Man can rise above his circumstances to achieve his dream, whatever it may be. Everybody knows somebody who can attest to this principle personally- the person born in poverty who is rich today, the fat kid in school who is now fit and slim, the entrepreneur who lost it all and made it back.

Movies like these are great as a source of motivation for entrepreneurs and athletes alike, for a few key reasons:

  • The odds of success are clearly against them.
  • The job requires a huge amount of sacrifice and hard work to get anywhere.
  • A dogged persistence toward a beholden idea is sometimes all that keeps them going.

What are you waiting for? Go and watch The Fighter today. And be inspired!

Nassim Taleb’s Top 10 Life Tips


If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 3 years, you might not yet have heard of Nassim Taleb, famous author of The Black Swan and predictor of of the most recent global financial crisis. 

Taleb is something of an enigma- he was relatively unknown before the economic meltdown of 2008 and a superstar afterward. Still, his writings provoke thoughtful consideration of a number of topics, particularly things that we take for granted. His essay “The Fourth Quadrant: A Map Of The Limits of Of Statistics” was especially interesting (I highly recommend it). One of my favourite quotes from the essay is:

'My classical metaphor: A Turkey is fed for a 1000 days—every days confirms to its statistical department that the human race cares about its welfare “with increased statistical significance”. On the 1001st day, the turkey has a surprise.' - Taleb

Yesterday, going through my Delicious bookmarks I re-read an old Sunday Times (UK) profile of Taleb in which he shared his Top 10 life tips. I’ve added the emphasis to the points I particularly like:

Taleb’s Top Life Tips

1 Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.

Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.
3 It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.

4 Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.
5 Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.

Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).

8 Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or (again) parties.

9 Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.

10 Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

P.S: Don’t believe everything the press likes to talk about. Is Taleb a guru, a crank, or at times perhaps both? Check out this counter essay called Taleb’s Black Swan.

10 Success Principles From Mark Cuban That Made Him Rich

Mark Cuban is certainly one of the more outspoken dot com billionaires. I like the fact that he writes regularly for his blog, and has done so for years. Like many who have achieved remarkable success, he has a lot of important lessons to share.
After reading Mark Cuban’s very long, insightful post titled “Success and Motivation”, I distilled these 10 powerful personal pointers from it:

1. Be hungry: He always dreamed of massive success and wealth. Even from a young age.
"I drove by big houses and would wonder who lived there. What did they do for a living? How did they make their money? Someday, I would tell myself, I would live in a house like that. Every weekend I would do it."
2. Have a courageous vision: He always knew that he would start his own business (in spite of some self-doubt), and he did. (Remember courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to pursue a course of action in spite of fear).
"If I ever grew up, I hoped to run my own business some day. It’s exactly what I told myself every day. In reality, I had as much doubt as confidence. I was just hoping the confidence would win over the doubt and it would all work out for the best."
"I’m always afraid of failing. It’s great motivation to work harder."

3. Do something you love: He loved working in the computer business.
"More importantly no, most importantly I realized that I loved working with PCs. I had never done it before. I didn’t know if this was going to be a job that worked for me, or that I would even like and it turns out I was lucky. I loved what I was doing."
4. Focus for long hours at will: He setup his own company from scratch when he was 24. He enjoyed working so much (and was also highly motivated) that he would stay in the office until the morning.
"I would get so involved with learning a new piece of software that I would forget to eat and look up at the clock thinking it was 6 or 7pm and see that it was 1am or 2am. Time would fly by."

5. Persist- never ever quit: After his secretary stole $83k out of his $85k business bank account, he picked himself up and decided to just keep going. 
"No one was going to cover my obligations but me. I had to get my ass back to work, and do so quickly. That’s exactly what I did."
6. Read more than anyone else: He read every book, magazine, and manual he could. He used it to increase his knowledge and get more business ideas. He called it the “knowledge advantage”. He still reads for 3 hours every day. He also read everything relevant to his industry.
"Everything I read was public. Anyone could buy the same books and magazines. The same information was available to anyone who wanted it. Turns out most people didn’t want it."

7. Learn from the elites: He watched Michael Dell and Bill Gates closely (in terms of how they ran their businesses). He watched the movements of other great companies, and emulated where he chose to.
"Watching the best taught me how to run my businesses."
8. Work harder than others: "There are no shortcuts. You have to work hard, and try to put yourself in a position where if luck strikes, you can see the opportunity and take advantage of it. I would also say it’s hard not to fool yourself. Everyone tells you how they are going to be ‘special’, but few do the work to get there. Do the work."

9. Be prepared to sacrificeI went seven years without a vacation (from the time I got fired from a job, and started MicroSolutions). I didn’t even read a fiction book in that time. I was pretty focused.”
10. Create conditions that help you get lucky"In Business, the odds are a little different. You don’t have to break the Mendoza line (hitting .200). In fact, it doesnt matter how many times you strike out. In business, to be a success, you only have to be right once. One single solitary time and you are set for life. That’s the beauty of the business world."
"No one is going to know or care about your failures, and neither should you. All you have to do is learn from them and those around you because…
All that matters in business is that you get it right once. Then everyone can tell you how lucky you are.”

5 Lessons from Billionaires - Based on Real Life Interactions

My good friend Roger Norton recently wrote a thought provoking blog post describing some of the lessons he had learned from billionaires.
During years of working in the super yacht industry, Roger spent a large amount of one on one time with his various bosses (the yacht owners), all of whom were members of the richest club on Earth. I remember hearing a lot of inspiring, interesting, and sometimes downright wacky stories from him on this topic. 

In his post he shares some of the conclusions he made about the mega-wealthy, based on his observations. These include:
1. You can become a billionaire in any area. The professional range and disciplines of Roger’s bosses varied wildly, from financial traders to fishing tycoons.

2. Anyone can be a billionaire. The social circumstances from which the individuals came from mattered far less than their willingness to pursue to their ambitions. 3. It take a certain type of person. A certain mindset or way of thinking was common among them, exemplified by tenacity and critical thinking.

4. Having loads of money doesn’t change you, it just lets you be more you. Money is simply the ultimate enabler.
5. All rich people have enemies. I’m not convinced that this applies to everyone, but Roger did notice a certain paranoia among several of his bosses.

For more detail, I suggest reading Roger’s original post